How do I know the person God wants me to marry?
My son asked me this question not long ago. It’s a question I get often from readers trying to figure out what God wants them to do next.
On the one hand, the question is much simpler than we make it. On the other hand, it is far more nuanced than we’d like to admit.
Almost 18 years have passed since my wife and I said I do. Six kids later, we’re rapidly approaching that time in life when our own children will be deciding when to get married and to whom.
It caused me to finally write some posts capturing advice I’ve given to a lot of couples, young and old, who were trying to figure out whom to marry.
I posted the first two questions over at my main FaithWalkers site:
Answering those two questions can eliminate a lot of the struggles around a marital decision for a Christian. But what about after you have answered both of those questions with a clear Yes?
What then? Does that mean you should marry that person?
Is there more to it?
The Third Question to Ask before Saying “I Do”
There is a third question to ask that is far more nuanced than the first two and it is this:
Question 3: Would it be wise for me to marry this person?
It may not be wrong, but is it a smart thing to do? After all, marriage is for life, or at least it is as far as God is concerned.
There is a great deal of grey here, rather than black and white. It is precisely at this stage that you need to rely most on the leading of the Holy Spirit and wise counsel so you can make the decision with your eyes wide open to potential friction points.
You can’t see it all, so don’t wait for perfection. Trust me, perfection and marriage don’t go together.
But if you don’t think through the implications of certain life factors, you’ll be blindsided. Not that you can’t overcome the challenges if you are committed to solving problems biblically. Nevertheless, it can make for a very rocky road.
Better to check your course first, and then start the journey.
A Process of Discovery
Even this past week, I uncovered more about my own hard-wiring that helped me understand why I respond to my wife in certain ways. After almost 18 years of marriage, we’re still realizing how our upbringing and personal behavioral wiring shapes our relationship.
Don’t think I am encouraging you to master every nuance of the relationship before getting married. Never going to happen in this lifetime.
But I do believe there are several critical areas of life–at least 10–you should think about and discuss candidly with the person you think God wants you to marry–and the earlier in the relationship the better.
Once a relationship has passed a certain point and certainly after a public engagement announcement, you’d feel like a jerk for calling it off. Even though that is exactly what the engagement period is for.
It is a public proclamation that you are considering marriage. So you are “off the market,” as it were, while preparing for this momentous step. But that does not mean you must take the final step.
Bottom line: until you make the vow before God, you can always back out or push pause to make sure you’re making the wise decision. Just make sure you are doing so for the right reasons and not because you are afraid of making a commitment.
No one wants to marry someone who really isn’t certain he or she is supposed to be there. Not really. That doubt will only increase as problems and challenges arise (as they always will).
10 Topics Every Christian Couple Should Discuss before Marriage
Although certainly not exhaustive, this list highlights key conversations that should take place before you say “I do.”
1. Family Structure.
We are each shaped by our family. Even if we’re not fully aware of those forces ourselves, those relationships influence us greatly.
For example, being raised in a single-parent home will shape your thinking about family life differently than having been reared in a stable, two-parent home. I am not saying that a person reared in a single-parent household cannot have a great marriage. Not at all. But when someone has never seen a stable marriage modeled for them, you can expect figuring it out to be a challenge.
If someone endured a painful divorce as a child, you can expect that to influence their understanding of marriage. The same is true for someone who witnessed an outwardly stable but inwardly disconnected marriage.
Having a candid conversation about the family forces that have shaped the understanding of marriage you bring with you can help you avoid repeating the same problems. Pretending they don’t exist will only set you up for failure.
[It is worth noting that as the family disintegrates and marriage is redefined in our culture, this concern will become a greater factor. Read more about the the cultural shift and what to do about it in my new book with Erick Erickson available for pre-order now.]
2. Parent Relationships.
Beyond the core structure of the family, each of us is shaped by our relationships with our parents (or grandparents) or the lack thereof. When we first married, my wife and I hit our first big marital wall when she realized I had to go to work.
She had spent a lot of time with her father growing up as they had similar interests and personalities. But her dad was a disabled military vet who, because of his injuries, was home all the time. When I had to go to work every day and work long hours to get started, she unconsciously interpreted my absence as not caring about her. She would sit in our apartment alone, feeling neglected because I wasn’t there as much as her father had been there.
It took some adjusting for both of us to understand and acknowledge both her expectations and my own over-zealousness to prove myself in the workplace. Yes, I was probably trying to please my parents, as well.
Another popular parent factor happens when a son is so used to being taken care of by his mother that when he gets married, he really just wants to replace her. Women who are naturally more wired to take charge need to be especially careful not to marry a guy who is looking for a replacement mommy. Although you will feel important and needed in the short term, you’re likely to end up frustrated in the long-term.
There are many other such parental relationship concerns that could surface. Just think them through and count the costs before making the commitment.
3. Theology and Church.
Even though you both may be Christians, you may not agree on significant beliefs or what church you will attend.
For example, one issue we had to work through prior to getting married was our view on the place of children in the Church. I had come to believe the historic Christian position that children of believing parent had a special place in the visible body of Christ. But my wife had been raised in a traditional Baptist church that had different views.
We studied Scripture together and she came to embrace my beliefs (without coercion, in case you were wondering.) If we had not agreed, we would have set ourselves up for significant conflict down the road.
Within the broad umbrella of Christianity, you will find a lot of disagreement. A clarifying question to ask is this: can we agree on a shared belief system that we can teach our children and that is consistent with Scripture?
Furthermore, does it major on the major issues and minor on the minor issues? For example, in the fundamentalist church environment I grew up in, watching television might have been grounds for not getting married.
If you are not clear on the differences, take the time and invest the energy to get clear on what you believe.
Don’t be afraid to push pause on the marriage plans until you are confident you are on the same page. If asking the person to wait while you work it out is too much for them, that may be a good indicator you were headed for bigger problems anyways.
4. Personality Hard-wiring.
Each of us has been hard-wired with different personalities and behavioral tendencies. It is worth the effort before getting married to figure out how God has wired you so you can see where your potential hot spots might be in the relationship.
For example, I am a creative connector while my wife loves organization and predictable structure. She excels at figuring out what is wrong right now and how it could be done better. But I am an idea person who is always thinking (and when I say always, unfortunately, I mean always). So I am always thinking about the future, and about how things could and should be. That has led to some friction, believe me.
I have also learned that when mechanical expertise is required, I shouldn’t even waste time trying to figure it out. She has a mechanical mind that I respect greatly. I defer to her to lead in those areas. Likewise when we’re talking about big-picture direction and leadership, she defers to me as that is where my strengths lie.
Taking some of the better personality and behavioral tests out there — StandOut, RightPath, Meyers-Briggs, etc.– and talking them through before getting married will help you figure out how the two of you align.
5. Birth Order.
Another often-missed factor to consider is each person’s birth order. Birth order is not about your hard-wiring, but your conditioning in your own family environment growing up.
Research differs on how much it influences behavior outside the family environment, but I have seen the trends hold pretty consistently. For example, my wife was a first-born child in her family, so she tends to take charge. My own oldest daughter is the same way. Both tend to act responsibly because they have always been expected to do so. I, on the other hand, was a second-born child, but the oldest boy. I was also the only boy in our family growing up — which makes me a really confused mess, basically.
Thinking through these tendencies will help you see issues coming and prepare for them. [Check out The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are by Kevin Lehman to find out more.]
6. Emotional Baggage.
Each of us has experienced pain in our lives. We’ve been scarred from living in a fallen world. Some may have been abused. Some may have had their hearts broken. Some may experienced great loss as a child.
Whatever the emotional baggage may be, it’s best not to ignore it before getting married.
If you need to enlist the help of a biblically-based counselor or therapist, do it. You can thank me later. (If they are not biblically based, be very cautious about trying to make any sense of spiritual issues with a secular therapist. It usually will only make things worse.)
An example from our own marriage: A few years into our marriage, I realized that because of pain I had experienced in a relationship prior to meeting my wife, I was afraid to confront her when I thought she was wrong.
As result, I had unconsciously set her on a pedestal. But there can be no deep relationship with a statue.
I needed to find the courage to risk losing the relationship to speak the truth to her. When I began to do that, our relationship deepened. I still struggle with it to this day, but we are more consciously aware of my tendency not to say anything for fear of rocking the boat. [I know. Some regular readers are in shock to learn that I don’t usually enjoy rocking the boat.]
Check out your baggage before boarding the marriage train. I am not saying you should call it off as result, but just be aware of what baggage the two of you have and open to the reality that you are likely to discover more once that train leaves the station.
7. Race and Ethnicity.
“In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek,” says the Apostle Paul. So those attempting to preach that interracial marriage is wrong a themselves dead wrong. However, if you are thinking of getting married to someone of a different race or ethnic background, you should be honest with yourself about any challenges you may face.
Challenges may come from racist stereotypes in your own family, or from those of the same race outside of your marriage. For example, children who have one parent who is black and one parent who is white are likely to face racism from people of both races. That doesn’t make it right, but that is the reality of living in this fallen world.
Racial or ethnic differences shouldn’t decide your marriage decision — in either direction. Don’t insist on marrying someone just to show racist people that you are not racist. But don’t let their racism stop you from moving forward either. Just be fully aware of struggles that may arise as a result.
And speaking of kids, you need to have that conversation before getting married. Don’t assume you will work it out later.
Ask the tough questions now such as Do we want to have them? If so, how many? Or will we let God decide most of that? (You do have some role in that process, just so you know). When will you have them? (Earlier is better than later.) What will be our approach to parenting?
My own opinion, by the way is that God told us to be fruitful and multiply, so the more kids we have the better. And the truth is that having more kids actually is easier on parents in many ways than having fewer, in my opinion.
How many children you want to have will naturally lead to a conversation about birth control. It is a conversation you should have before getting married.
Across Christianity, you will find all sorts of opinions about it. Do your own research and study of Scripture. Talk with couples who have children and whose marriages seem to be working well. Once your wedding night comes around, it may be too late to start the conversation about when you will be having children.
Oh, and if the person you are thinking about marrying is open to considering abortion as a means of birth control. Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.
One final key decisions you will need to make about your children is how will they be educated. Both my wife and I would never send our children to the government schools in America, for example, because they are controlled by the religion of secular humanism. Submitting them to indoctrination by secular curriculum and worldview–no matter how caring the teachers–would violate our conscience. So for us it would be sinful to do. We would go to prison first. Or worse.
You need to make your own decisions about education and get on the same page as soon as possible. Don’t assume you know what the other person is thinking.
I’ll write more about this topic very soon, but in my experience, having worked with thousands of families and the education of their children, most parents make education decisions based on financial concerns. It almost always comes down to money, no matter what pious excuses or explanation are offered as cover. But I digress.
And that leads us to one of the greatest sources of friction in a marriage–money.
“The love of money is the root of all evil,” Scripture tells us. Jesus himself said that money is the chief rival for our love for Him. Is it any wonder that it can cause such division in marriage, a relationship intended to best reflect His image on earth?
What we do with our money reveals what is in our hearts. We may not like to admit that, but “where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.” That’s why this issue can be so contentious in a marriage. We’re dealing with heart issues when we deal with money.
One of the biggest things to figure out for a couple is how they think about money. The truth is most people talk as if they want a lot of it. But the reality is that most people are afraid of it.
And let’s face it, most of us know what it’s like to not have money. We don’t really know what to do with it. And yet we are most afraid of not having enough.
Money exposes the focus of our faith.
As I mentioned earlier, we went through a biblically-based money-management course prior to getting married. All couples should at least do that. I would also recommend a read of a different sort:Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!
Of all the topics listed here, this one is perhaps the least important. You can be happily married as Christians but disagree about politics — to some extent.
But most political issues are grounded on philosophical or moral issues. The extent that your political differences come from your different interpretation of Scripture and Christian beliefs is the extent to which those differences will be an issue.
It may be that you should not marry that person if you disagree on something so fundamental as the nature of man — fallen or not. Does he see everyone as a victim? Does she think government is a means of salvation? Those are issues that may have implications in other areas of your marriage.
Talk through where you stand politically and why to make sure you can at least peacefully co-exist before having your home split apart every two to four years or every time an election rolls around.
Who Ever Said It Would Be Easy?
Whew! Clearly the decision is not an easy one. But it doesn’t have to be a blind one either.
If you are having second thoughts after reading through these topics, you can and should push pause until you are confident you are making the wise decision.
This is an irreversible decision. Once you make the vow, there is no way out of it. You cannot enter a marriage thinking divorce could be an option or it soon will be.
And don’t fall for the lie from Satan that there is no one else left out there for you.
Waiting for the God to provide the best person to marry is an act of faith.
[Check out the beginning of this series here.]
What did I miss? What other factors would you add to the list for Christians to think about before getting married? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.